. artist : trans/human .
. album : the wider .
. year : 2012 .
. label : blackest rainbow .
. grade : a minus .
The recalcitrantly-titled The Wider (wider than …? should we listen … wider? does humanity aspire … wider?) is a dithering tumult of horror film excerpts (specifically, the screams), terrific and charged ambience, the intent jangle and posture of ceremonial dance, and rotary, droning beats that slough with the molten crawl of slag. The cover photo by Joe Blanchard is also incorrigible and daunting: it seems to be an encaustic wallpaper-peeling hell of primrose and sarcoline, waxy ectoderm melting in strips to reveal the cartouche of Mama Bear and Papa Pig, dressed with ruffed sleeves, a checkered apron and a top hat; some children’s book of unthought grotesquerie. It’s also inked with scribal-sacrosanct vermillion; with red in all the center of things — jelly-donut viscera — splotches, wounds, even an alveolar pupil in the eye of a daisy.
Electronic artists behind the tortuous Wider, Trans/Human, are Adam Denton and Luke Twyman of Audacious Art Experiment. Trans/Human craft an aptly transitional presentation, linear but muddled, confounding the interpretation of sounds as they are shifted from one source to another. The Wider features the screams of humans but transitions to them through remote, and so, blind, cries of animals lowing, cawing, keening. They remind us that humans are animals, and that the frantic noise of fright or pain has a subhuman power to work over the listener, demanding an active attention … and action (though impossible here). The near- (and paradox) insufferability of Wider (for its hearer) — would you condone leaving a human in pain? — yields an emotive desire for interactivity that’s exceptional in this genre, whose worse enemy is what it’s most conducive to: “sit-back-and-re-lax.” The expressive rawness of the screams plays, too, on the imagination, and the listener can imagine virtually anything going on, or not going on … who knows? No one. In a way, horror films do us a kindness by showing the violence or fearful stimulus, disabusing the listener of their need to be afraid for any number of opportunities, sympathetically prepared for anything. Some screams seem more reverent than upset, and a choral atmosphere, droning, and plainsong chant often presides as well — how hard it can be to distinguish between devotion and subjugation.
On a related note, the presentation of [x] as music immediately informs our perception and interpretation … and can make the experience problematic: in the first sequence of screams, slowly clarified as human from the animal babble, a single cymbal touch creates anempathy between the horror screams and the drums usually associated with comedy.
From the first sparsely percussive minutes, Wider ripens into a charged ambience, left off near-soundless negative space to great, hallowed effect, marinating the listener into an abiding patience. Wider is, in some ways, like the vitreous vapor rising in a dark foundry, aglow and wafting an ether of heat.
Wider begins with swaying footsteps and clave clacks, drum claps, a listless military exercise of clanking accouterments, the regimented dance of a prayer dress, ghungroos and dhols belabor in slow motion; a water-tortured metronome; the keen clack of cane; the wild hollow of a ghost dance. Then cries transduce slowly, from the lowing of a cow giving birth, to the hushed choir of caws as the black mass of birds comes to settle … transmuting finally into a human. The agony persists as the thunderous staccato of tribal ambience begins again; it’s chilling as the cries become increasingly coherent, and, from the beastly herd, a man. Then an ambience alert and abuzz, with the purposed roil of a shifty spider’s legs or the spotty turn of cartoon bees from a pooh book. The ambience of captivity — a dank and dripping cell, walls leaching, still air smelling of rusted metal of a prison cell — is again broken by the anempathetic cymbal. It’s the Tony Oxley-worthy jangle from the drum kit — sometimes frivolous but at others masterfully-aired sarcasm — that make uncomfortable evocations sound laudatory or trite. It’s as though there’s been a soundtrack all along….
A windswept oscillation of accumulated sound hurtles, expelling steam in a long gasp, locomotive windows whistling in percussive wind-ups; human screams are buried in the sonic miscellany. Then the motile cry of the screeching train becomes the yawn of an angry cat. Wound through cloughs, a vortex of noise hurtles, consuming and overpowering. The cymbals make even this visceral, tornadogenic pull anempathetic. It’s a hungry demon sort of sound, opened wide on the wide open event horizon and into the sunset; the bright clank chimes of patina-laden metal settles into drum stick soft scrums, leaf rustles of percussion. An abrasive alarm tone begins to drone. A percussive whatsit Oxley jangle smatters. And there’s almost total silence (11:50) but present in its absence, charged with an electrostatic buzz. Then a witch cackle crackle becomes a mechanical toad lowing in its crank substitute, and slag is heaped and fumblingly resorted. Brooding viols and cellos begin to abrade their strings.
Then it’s a whirlpool of Mozarabic chant, the viscous drone of an organ, everything resonating; Wider begins to mobilize with a loud guitar spottily plucking out a few notes; the drum energetically steps up to motoric starts and stops in cool waves, then, faster, into military double-time, with cymbal crashes for syncopation. There’s a hum underneath like a blender wrapped in wool; a comber rotary becomes softer with each dip; a surf punk moment includes a dobro and discharges a upbeat tone, with beeps underneath, a parody of a small band mincing about its takeover of retro kitchen appliances: grinding motors and a reverberant wash of droning. The small revolutionary non-flap of helicopter leaves; now resonant peaks and valleys; wound down, wound back up; settles down into resonance; yowling again like cattle or monks in a guttural chant; their pitch begins to crown at the note where the lawnmower’s finally started. Vacillating vox is chanting and twining in a bizarre pained round, the frame switching static beneath and beginning to segment itself.
There’s clanging and calling over a mid-size rotary hum as fermatas duplicate on the page, droning on hold. Then a switch to a grungy sci-fi crunch, like a mid-century military operation in a cold corridor with olive-green wallpaper. A break is rhythmic, dilapidated jazzy, with a distorted keyboard or honking sax. A theramin begins like a soprano cry but is replaced by a woman’s scream. A foil to the man’s distressed cries near Wider’s beginning, she is not upset at all, but rather deeply formidable, with an almost shamanic power, unmistakable as a woman-lioness … a sort of Clytemnestra moment. More trains screak and organs unstopper; a deep beat evokes a tuba weedwacker; drum kits are banged about conventionally all the while, as though there’s nothing strange and messy about what it’s backing. A bagpipe sound creates an ambient plane underwater; helicopter propeller roulette takes on a bright, almost woodwind-edge.
It’s more of the same as The Wider anneals, rollicking to its 33-minute close in a thinning bubbly barrage, with choral undertones and gristly feedback. It’s gritty and silt-thick, with curtains of gong wiping the slate; side-to-side percussion like an earthquake jitter under the surface. High-pitched screaks, stilted rhythms, crowd noises, and pot-n-pan drum kits evince the breaking wave that later, as an undertow, shifts sands, destabilizing as it strafes below, leaving nothing but a hum and drum stick claps — like a stopwatch. The stagehands clear the set. To close, whistles begin from a human throat, then soften to birds, … then to a lull of crickets: “silence.”
by Brittany Tracy